“Winter is a struggle, dark and heavy, brooding skies and howling winds. Death casts a cold shadow over the northern light. The ground is hard and frozen. Winter is isolation, season of reckoning, body count, invoice of damage and loss. It is a time to hibernate, dream, reflect, and wait out the frost for the promise of spring.” — O.S. 1991
Tell now at last of the poet abandoned by those who listened as he lost his voice. Mocked and ignored, he is cast outside the edge of no-man’s land.
Odysseus remembers dinner at a fashionable restaurant with Mom, Aunt Rita and cousins Chris and Joey.
The commodity markets have changed over the last several years. Chris lost and spent much of his fortune. He has left the trading floor. His hair has grown gray. His marriage turned south. Chris still owns two homes, one in Chicago’s northern suburbs and another on a lake in Wisconsin. He works eighty-hour weeks in a real estate related field and hates the job. His son Maynard is his only consolation. Maynard is Chris’s redemption. Chris keeps Maynard in the dark, never daring to admit his former sins and wild past. He is a devoted father and Maynard is a loving son.
Mom remarks to her sister, “We’re so lucky to have each other and to have such loving children.” Chris and Joey beam.
Joey has grown quite fat and become a self-described “inflammatory clown” to many around him. He speaks in his typical sycophantic fashion to his mom and aunt. “You Devin girls are so pretty and charming it’s easy to love you.”
Mom looks to Odysseus for an equally flattering comment. Odysseus hesitates. His knees begin to shake under the table. He says to Mom, “I love you and hate you.”
Chris and Joey squirm in their seats. Aunt Rita’s voice speaks enraged. “How dare you make such a remark to your mother!” “No, no, let Odys speak,” Mom encourages. Odysseus falls silent.
In 1988 he writes an essay entitled, In Defense of My Work.
“I stopped drawing females. I realize by objectifying women I am empowering them in a way I no longer want. I am weary of my goddess fixation. Looking back at the last decade, I realize I have made mistakes. Most of the works are life-size figures of what excites me most, women. Besides the obvious eroticism, they symbolize a classical ideal of beauty for me.
“Since 1984 I have been included in a number of group shows. Reviews of my work have run positive to indifferent. At some point the drawings grew tougher and denser. I stopped using models. I was deep in charcoal, drawing over drawings, erasing and excavating. Even though people were applauding the work, I knew something was wrong. The figures were all disturbed and abused.
“On another level they were like prayers crying out. ‘How ugly must we make ourselves before the truth can be known?’ I realized I was making a casualty of myself, holding out this hurt as a means to salvation. I lived with the misconception I was supposed to suffer in order to be good. The last figures I did were quite dark and obscured, forcing the viewer to look into the blackness in order to decipher content, such as: Mysterious Pair, Campfire of the Seers, Madonna and Child.
“It was gorgeous anguish. It looked like ‘real art’ to me and that was the problem. The work addressed an antiquated definition of art. I was weary of making portraits of tortured souls. I wanted to imagine a ‘higher art.’ I needed to step back, put down the charcoal and rethink what ‘art’ meant to me. I plunged into Judd, Marden, Beuys, Warhol, Stella, Kandinsky, Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Baudrillard, Foucault and Derrida.
“Many aspects have come into play during this personal eclipse, including why and where I was proceeding in life. I was hurting yet have better intentions. The grant I received from the Illinois Arts Council, however encouraging, was not enough to effect my situation. I was disenchanted with the commercial gallery scene. I suspected reaching a larger audience was not a solution.
“I wanted to reach a sense of inner growth. I decided to do more research, talking with people and learning. I decided to pursue a path of spiritual healing. I needed to address certain visual and philosophical priorities that could only be served with abstraction. I intuitively chose geometry.
“The new work is about discovering a new self, a circle in a rectangle. My initial concerns were spatial, proportional and architectural, locating the circle. One Step is a large circle drawn to the upper and lower edges of the paper. It is impending, seeming to be on the verge of jumping off.
“Two Step is a dense rectangular charcoal field with a tiny white spot in the center. It is about hope, a light in the darkness.
“Serenity Pool is a circle whose perimeter is mostly implied outside the rectangle, only in the corners of the paper are areas indicating the circle’s edge. Even though the circle reaches out beyond the rectangle, it presides gentle and meditative rather than menacing. I used soft pastels instead of charcoal. The center is powdery aquamarine rippling out smoothly into a cool light green that turns yellowish at the edges like a shallow concave pool of water in sunlight.
“It was after making these three drawings, I stumbled on an equation. I measured the rectangle horizontally into thirds and then located the circle’s diameter in the center third. This is my resolve. The circle is so capable at this proportion. The surrounding space can be either threatening or quite vulnerable. They confront each other equally and reach a harmony. It is here where I enter the world aligned, belonging and unified. Space connects and separates. Nothing ever stops. At present this image is the most powerful composition that exists for me.
“After making twelve variations of these drawings with pastel or graphite, I decided to make a deeper commitment to paint and canvas. I choose not to stretch the canvas, determining to make that decision later. I do not want anything restricting or confining, no hard edges and boundaries until it becomes an installation, a presentation. I choose primary colors, red, yellow, blue and black and white. The work evokes spirituality, not seduction. It is about the success of Modernism.
“Postscript: The condition of life is an uncertain continuum. Interpretation attempts to affix a position but who we are and whom we were and what is occurring is relative. Only faith is concrete.”
Subsequent to rereading and thinking about the statement, he writes In Defiance of Myself.
“I want to participate. I hope and pray my work will be brave. No heroism, just a sense of involvement and accomplishment. What I fear is indifference and exclusion. Relativism with strong faith reciprocates a capacity for profound doubt.
“It occurs to me, however powerful a composition the circle in the rectangle is, the equation is limited by the rigidity of its ideal posturing. It is not a practical stance, rather a preparation. There is an area of space more vast and formidable that commands. Two Step begins to deal with the issues of this uncontrollable space yet fails because there is a distant light. Space exists independent and unrealized outside our entire ideation. The greater our imagining, the greater is our fear of oblivion. Reality defies spirituality. Call it God if you like but the unknown is a perilous ally.”
Odysseus finds a telephone number written in Bayli’s handwriting hidden on a shelf. He thinks to call the number and see who will answer. He hesitates picturing Bayli in his mind then presses the numbers.
A woman answers, “Hello?” He says, “Hi. Is Bayli there?” The woman in a guarded tone replies, “Who is this?” He says, “Odys. I’m calling from Chicago.” She sternly speaks, “Bayli is not taking any calls or messages from Chicago! This is her mother and I advise you to leave Bayli alone. She has a new life now and doesn’t want to be reminded of Chicago or you. Don’t call this number again!” She hangs up.
He remembers how Dad had scheduled him to work out of town the week Bayli’s parents came to meet him and the family. Probably Bayli’s mom still holds a grudge. He clasps his hands and lets out a long breath.